It's official. Starting May 3, 2023, Rolex will extend its Certified Pre-Owned program to the United States.
In a surprise move late last year, the company announced official certification for its pre-owned watches, but only in a handful of select European countries. Now, it's finally coming stateside. At a time when Rolex watches are harder to get than ever, it seems like part of a larger effort to meet the intense demand.
If Rolex itself gives a watch the thumbs-up, that'll be good enough for just about anyone — but there are yet some points in need of clarification regarding how the Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) program works and how it'll shake out in practice. Here's what you need to know.
What We Know About Rolex CPO
Some details remain unclear, but here's what we currently know.
How does the Rolex Certified Pre-Owned program work?
Watches that Rolex has certified will receive a guarantee card and a seal similar to the famous green seal accompanying new Rolexes. They'll also come with a two-year international warrantee (new Rolexes have a five-year warrantee). The program applies to secondhand watches more than three years old.
Where can I buy a Rolex Certified Pre-Owned watch?
At the initial announcement, the program was only available at Bucherer boutiques in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, France, Denmark and the UK. The program is now extending to the United States at "select Tourneau/Bucherer locations, followed by Watches of Switzerland, and continuing to expand with other Official Rolex Jewelers in the future." You can already see Certified Pre-Owned Rolex watches on Bucherer's website, but they're not available to buy directly online.
How will Rolex price its pre-owned watches?
It's already a remarkable and awkward situation to see the retail price for a watch on an empty case — alongside a pre-owned model of the same watch priced for more. Pricing a pre-owned watch is tricky and involves a number of variables. Initial pricing on the Bucherer website appears to follow the market, but the brand now has a lever of greater influence in it. According to Hodinkee, pricing decisions about pre-owned watches are left up to the individual dealers participating in the program, without influence from Rolex headquarters.
Why is Rolex doing this now?
"To bring added value to the existing supply of pre-owned Rolex watches" is the brand's characteristically opaque and diplomatic statement. Naturally, Rolex isn't overtly calling attention to the rampant secondhand market that's been rather out of control in recent years — and if Rolex likes one thing, it's control. This move seems like a way to combat prices and insert Rolex's voice directly back into the conversation.
It also gives the brand a chance to benefit further from the demand it's apparently unable to meet with supply of new Rolex watches. According to the brand, it allows it to "showcase the uncompromising quality and durability our watches are known for."
What We Don't Know Yet
There are yet many unanswered, burning questions many enthusiasts have that aren't addressed in Rolex's press release.
What is the actual certification process?
Are watches sent to Rolex or inspected on site? Can you walk into a dealer and sell or trade in your Rolex right then and there? Will certified watches also be serviced? We've got to assume that the brand has thought these issues through carefully, but it remains to be seen how the program will be put into practice. Rolex also loves rules: there'll surely be a range of circumstances that disqualify a watch from certification, but Rolex has yet to clarify much on these details.
How will vintage watches be treated?
Vintage Rolex collecting is very much a world of its own. And if Rolex is handling all watches older than three years, that includes vintage, so will they be treated the same as modern Rolexes?
Standard Rolex servicing typically includes the likes of replaced parts and polishing, but collectors want that precious patina — they want their watches sharp, original and correct! Sometimes even if, say, a watch's hands or dial are authentically Rolex, collectors seek original (as opposed to replacements, even if they're from the company itself)
Rolex has stated (in an interview with Hodinkee, linked above) that "old-generation" parts which are "damaged" (that's often another word for patina!) "new-generation" parts are offered to the customer (included in the service quote) in "a consent scenario." Rolex acknowledges that this is a special situations and refers to it as a "vintage service."
What effect will it have on the existing pre-owned Rolex market?
Paul Altieri owns Bob's Watches, one of the biggest pre-owned Rolex sellers online, with its own well established authenticity certification program. He feels that he's still able to offer value by selling online.
"I'm still going to bet on the internet, when it's all said and done," he told Gear Patrol. It's safe to presume that Rolex won't be taking sales online anytime soon.
Some speculate that existing pre-owned dealers will need to lower prices in order to compete — and that could consequently bring the Rolex price bubble back down to earth and under control a bit.
We'll continue to keep you updated as more information is available.